The Privatization of U.S. Fisheries Through Catch Share Programs
When people think of fishing, they probably imagine an independent sea captain and his crew braving the elements in a small vessel to bring a fresh catch to shore and to our plates. But the current focus of U.S. policy for managing our fisheries, called catch shares, is destroying the way of life of our nation’s fishermen and coastal communities. This time-honored trade is being replaced by a privatized system that often leaves the future of our nation’s fish, one of our most precious natural resources, in the hands of a small number of larger operations, whose primary goal is often immediate profit rather than sustainable use and long-term conservation.
The United States lost most of its family farms to the large industrialized agriculture model. Catch shares create similar conditions on our seas by transferring the wealth of our fish populations from the public trust into private hands, by allocating a percentage quota of the total amount of fish that can be caught in a year and allowing these quota to be leased, bought and sold. When catch shares are given to fishermen, those who receive the largest initial distribution of shares — or have the most capital to buy and lease shares — often gain control over the entire fishery. Smaller-scale traditional fishermen are pushed out of the fishery while larger companies, which often use fishing practices that stress ocean ecosystems, take over.
Proponents of catch shares claim they are the best solution to profitably, safely and sustainably manage our fisheries. In this report, Food & Water Watch examines these claims and finds them all wanting.
Catch shares cause economic devastation.
Catch shares only increase profits for some fishermen by cutting hundreds of others out of the fishery entirely. Widespread job loss and reduced wages drag coastal communities that are already struggling in this economy into dire economic situations.
Meanwhile, a privileged few are able to profit from exclusive access to a public resource.
Catch shares fail to sustain the health of our fisheries.
Catch shares are only a way to distribute fish among fishermen and have no built-in sustainability measures — overfishing is controlled separately by setting limits on the total number of fish that can be caught. In fact, catch shares inherently contain incentives to use more damaging gear, discard unwanted fish and dismiss adaptive ecosystem-based fishing strategies.
Catch shares fail to achieve legal standards for fishery management.
The federal law governing our nation’s fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management Act, specifies that fishery management must support the long-term economic health of fishing communities, but catch shares are responsible around the
world for destroying the economic health of coastal ports. Further, an international court found that catch shares violated human rights by creating a privileged class of fishermen in a privatized industry.
Catch shares aren’t fair.
Our nation and our oceans deserve better than a system that results in an unfair giveaway of public resources to private entities. Fishermen, rather than being cut out of the fishery, should be a key part of the management process. Smart fishery
management can be fair and equitable, maintain public control of the resource, minimize damage to the environment, and promote a better life for our nation’s fishermen and coastal and fishing communities, and a better product for consumers.